A helpful structure for personal prayer is provided by the acrostic A-C-T-S: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. Adoration as the place where prayer must start. When we begin by adoring God and seeing him in his majesty and holiness, we naturally become aware of our sins. Thus, the next step in prayer is confession of sins.
We should always pray in a spirit of confession. Psalm 66:18 says that if we harbor unconfessed sins in our hearts, God will not hear us. Thus, we may never enter into a conversation with God while we are in a state of sin. Just as believers under the old covenant could only draw near to God by bringing a sacrifice, so we may not draw near without confessing our sins and approaching him through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, the final sacrifice for sins. We are commanded to come boldly, but we must come contritely as well.
The third part of prayer is “supplication with thanksgiving.” We should begin with thanksgiving for what Jesus has done for us and for what God has done in our lives. The attitude of thanksgiving is wanting in our lives. The traditional worship service of the church is called the Eucharist, from the Greek word for “thanksgiving.” The idea of worship is thanksgiving to God. We tend to forget what God has done for us, which is why God set up memorials and rituals for Israel to remind them. We need to make the effort in our prayers to show that we have not forgotten God’s mercies.
Finally, we bring our petitions. The Protestant doctrine of the priesthood of all believers says that we need not go to an ordained clergyman for prayer, and we certainly don’t need to ask dead saints to do it. We can ask any believer.
The other side of this is that, just as we need to ask others to pray for us, so we need to pray for others. The tendency is for us to be self-centered in our petitions, to pray mostly for ourselves. We need to reverse this emphasis and exercise our priesthood properly. We need to be priests for others, and have them be priests for us.
Try this A-C-T-S prayer outline. If you find that you stammer, keep going. Prayer, like learning to talk to anyone else, takes both focused interest and practice. Ask God to help you learn to pray better. Open the psalms and use them to help guide your prayers and your thoughts.
Adapted from Dr. R.C. Sproul. Vol. 4: Before the Face of God: Book 4: A daily guide for living from Ephesians, Hebrews, and James. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House; Ligonier Ministries, 1994, 478-479.
One of the ways I like to use the A-C-T-S acronym is to write down on a sheet of paper or journal each letter; then a corresponding verse; and then write down a short prayer on each aspect of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication based on each verse or passage of Scripture that I am reading through. One of the ways this really helps you grow in the Christian walk is in the area of confession and repentance. It’s easy to say your sorry for a particular sin, but when you write it down and it stares you back in the face – it really forces you to deal with it. For example, if I write down I was short and curt with my wife – and I write down what I said specifically – it helps me not only confess it to God, but also to my spouse, and then ask her to forgive me as well, and then we can work together on how I can speak more kindly to her. Prayer doesn’t change God – He’s perfect and always acts perfectly in accordance with His sovereign plans, but prayer is a wonderful means to help us become more like Jesus, and therefore, prayer is a great medium for us to change and conform into the image of Christ. – Dr. David P. Craig
About the Author: Dr. R.C. Sproul is the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education ministry located near Orlando, Florida. His teaching can be heard on the program Renewing Your Mind, which is broadcast on hundreds of radio outlets in the United States and in 40 countries worldwide. He is the executive editor of Tabletalk Magazine and general editor of The Reformation Study Bible, and the author of more than seventy books (including some of my all time favorites: THE HOLINESS OF GOD; CHOSEN BY GOD; KNOWING SCRIPTURE; WILLING TO BELIEVE; REASON TO BELIEVE; and PLEASING GOD) and scores of articles for national evangelical publications. Dr. Sproul also serves as president of Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies and Reformation Bible College. He currently serves as senior minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew’s in Sanford, FL.